Illinois is one of the very few states that recognizes that pets are more than property to be divided in divorce. Couples can work out shared custody agreements for their companion animals.
That doesn’t mean you must share custody. As with children, the decision should consider what is best for your animal.
When should an animal stay in one home?
A very young or very old pet may not do well moving between two homes. Young animals can become confused and overwhelmed moving between two homes. An older animal or one with medical issues might do better staying in one home and getting regular visits from their other parent.
Pets can be a great source of comfort during difficult times. You may both want to continue to spend time with your pet. However, sharing custody of a pet requires some communication and coordination. If the two of you aren’t in a place where you can “co-parent” your animal, it may be best if one of you finds another furry companion in need of a home.
Dividing time, costs and decision-making
Divorcing couples with children sometimes work out an agreement where their pet(s) stay with the kids and move back and forth between homes with them. This can give your animals (and your children) an added sense of stability – especially in the early days after separation or divorce.
Even if you decide that your pet will remain in the physical custody of just one of you, you’ll need to determine how financial responsibility will be divided (or if it will). Determining how veterinary, food, pet sitter, dog walker and other costs will be divided is key. These can be extensive. It’s also wise to determine who will make the final decisions on major medical and dental procedures and (when the time comes) euthanasia. This can help minimize conflict later.
It’s typically best for animals to have just one “owner” for purposes of paying annual licensing fees and ensuring that legally required vaccinations are current. That can and should be done even if you share custody.
Whatever you decide (or if you can’t reach a decision on your own and you have to ask a judge to make the decision), it’s important to have legal guidance from a professional who understands the importance of your animal in your life.